In the modern world, there has existed a constant push to take charity from the church in order to bureaucratize it; systematize it and (unfortunately) politicize it. The excuses for this are legion.
It is said that religious organizations use charity to create “rice Christians” (the false idea that faith is imposed upon recipients of charity). It is said that donation-based charity is not sustainable; and that people are not reliable. Sometimes it is even said that charitable organizations are not sufficiently accountable. Instead – the proponents of big government claim – charity should be the work of the state; with local groups only serving as the occasional implementers of federal projects and national priorities.
This is bad for many reasons.
First, the act of charity humanizes both the giver and the receiver. The dictionary defines charity as, “generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless.” They key to this concept is generosity. When the act of charity is wrested from its natural home and put under the coercive authority of the state – in possession of a gun – the nature of the act changes.
For those forced to give, it becomes a tax and the joy received as the counterpart to an act of generosity becomes instead the resentment at the government’s seizure of more hard earned money. For those on the receiving end, generosity is morphed from a kindly hand of a Good Samaritan – to become instead a right. The individual contact that is the glue of society is lost; the social contract is broken. Gratitude is replaced with scorn; personal responsibility with entitlement. The result is envy, resentment, hatred, and eventually class warfare.
Second, Christian charity serves in its own way as a check and a balance on overactive government. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” was Jesus’s message, clearly differentiating between the roles of the two. Unfortunately, as we have seen too often in the world and at home, activist governments attempting to socially engineer their societies do so by using people’s poverty against them. With their eye on the next elections, and using populist demagoguery, they attempt to divide the society into the 1% and the 99%; the not-so-subtle message being that the 99% should vote their way.
They create programs – funded at the point of a gun – to bind these poor to the government through these charities turned entitlements and managed by a string of anonymous bureaucrats. Even worse, they then use these entitlements to return a favor to an interest group or demand that people of faith go against their most sacred principles in response to a partisan agenda or a campaign promise.
Finally, church-based charity counters the entire toxic argument of sustainability (budgetary or otherwise). Charity is not meant to be sustainable. It is a helping hand to those most in need, in their time of most need. This is true whether it is for the survivors of an earthquake abroad or a family who loses a job and is having difficulty paying their mortgage.
The act of helping people through these difficult moments is an act of personal sacrifice (for both those helping and those being helped). It must be motivated by the humanizing emotion of empathy and compassion, not that of pity. Because of this, charity must be managed by activists (in this case believers), not bureaucrats; and it must thrive on donations, not coercive taxes.
For these reasons, when the function of human charity is devolved to communities of faith; it frees the act of caring for others from the murky and turbulent waters of partisan politics and empty pity. It wrests from the government another funding stream for their use on partisan political projects and the creation of bureaucracies to perpetuate those projects; and it allows individual acts of human compassion to flourish. The Christian can then continue to be the “salt and light” of the world; the element that both preserves it and illuminates it.